Fancy A Walk? Exploring London's Sprawling Parks.
I am fortunate to once again to find myself in London at the height of summer when the sun shines brightly bringing Londoners out to make the most of their glorious city.
On these annual visits, I am constantly amazed at the city’s relentless and seemingly perpetual transformation. Wherever one looks, massive cranes punctuate the skyline, hovering above resembling long - legged birds of prey. Scaffolding and hoardings smother the streets, hiding gigantic holes or construction sites symbolizing the relentless progress of new underground transport systems or foundations for soaring skyscrapers.
North of the city, in more tranquil surroundings, even prestigious The Bishops Avenue has been transformed into a building site as stately ambassadorial mansions are relentlessly reduced to rubble only to be replaced with grandiose apartment complexes.
There is a constant roar of heavy machinery on the inner-city streets while fleets of concrete trucks wait in long lines eager to disgorge their gigantic loads into ravenous holes in the ground.
However, London has the perfect antidote for urban construction stress as this enormous concrete jungle is teeming with a leafy patchwork of hidden greenery, most of which even it’s residents have yet to explore.
All that is required is a pair of stout legs and the will to stride away to discover these glorious hidden gems.
London is made up of 40% of public green space, with an astonishing 3,000 Royal and public parks totalling a massive 35,000 acres. Added to this, they're also more than 200 ‘private’ parks dotted throughout the boroughs. Unfortunately, these shady enclaves are reserved for those able to afford the multi-million-pound residences that surround them.
As I usually, stay in the north of the city, a few of my favourite walks are on the Heath or into Highgate Wood. The latter is like a preserved slice of England's past. It contains ancient oaks and hornbeams and once within the trees, it's easy to imagine what it might have been like when this type of forest covered much of southern England.
The magnificent Holland Park where, as soon as one enters, the traffic noise from busy Holland Park Avenue is suddenly muted by the abundant foliage.
The history of Holland Park, one of London’s finest green spaces, makes an interesting tale for history buffs and horticulturalists alike. The park surrounds a Jacobean mansion, Holland House, named after its second owner, the Earl of Holland, whose wife was the first person in England to successfully grow dahlias. In The 19th century, Holland House became a hub of political and literary activity, visited by Disraeli and Lord Byron amongst others, but was largely destroyed by bombs during WWII. These days, dahlias are still grown within the 55 acres of the park which also houses the Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens with its koi carp and bridge at the foot of a waterfall. It’s a perfect place for families as the playground, with its extensive climbing equipment, zip wire, giant see-saw and tyre swing provides endless hours of fun. In summer, open-air theatre and opera are staged in the park.
Its simply paradise to lie on the grass and hear wonderful birdsong, see squirrels scurrying between the trees and occasionally spot a shy fox. Whether walking or sitting and reading, I find this park never fails to instil in me a deep sense of timeless tranquillity. I really do resonate with the poet William Blake's who described this space as a "green and pleasant land".
From leafy Holland Park there are several parks within walking distance. They include Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood, Queens Wood, Alexandra Park and Regent's Park, and even good old Hyde Park.
are many access points to Hampstead Heath. One suggestion which presents the
best of this green treasure is a stroll from Gospel Oak tube station, crossing
over Parliament Hill Fields and heading north beside the various Highgate ponds
to eventually reach Kenwood House.
Kenwood is a magnificent villa set on the Heath's northernmost crest. Open to the public it contains the Iveagh Bequest, a collection that includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Gainsborough. Open-air summer concerts are held in the grounds. The cafe is a good refuel option before, perhaps, heading southwest through the woods and across the Heath to eventually end up in Hampstead village. A stroll to Parliament Hill offers a stunning view of the London skyline.
Highgate Wood, a Registered Charity managed and funded by the City of London, is an area of 28 hectares of ancient woodland in north London. It is a haven for wildlife and provides numerous easily accessible and scenic woodland trails.
A leisurely stroll, or zipping around London’s famous Hyde Park on a bicycle, is a perfect way to explore this huge and centrally located park, there's plenty to see and do with more than 4,000 trees, a lake, a meadow, and a breathtaking rose garden.
The beautiful gardens at Regents Park, spanning 166 hectares (410 acres), was designed in 1811 by renowned architect John Nash. Alongside stunning formal gardens, this London park has a boating lake, playgrounds and the largest outdoor sports area in London. In addition, the park boasts a stunning Open Air Theatre.
Sure, you may have danced to the beat of a festival in Notting Hill or lounged by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, but there are hundreds of green spaces just waiting for you to explore.
The popular Kew Gardens is a must and a visit to London would not be complete without a wander around this world-renowned spectacle. It’s huge, fascinating and has more species of plants and trees than any other park in the world. Allow at least a half-day to explore its magical offerings.
I have dwelt on just a few of these wooded spaces but there are so many scattered around this sprawling metropolis; Wimbledon and Clapham commons and Battersea are perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of London’s streets. It would take a book to detail them all and indeed there are several excellent publications that gives the visitor an overview of them all.
So, grab those walking shoes and set out to discover yet another side of one of the worlds greatest cities.
London Augst 2019
Paul v Walters is the author of several best selling novels and when he is not cocooned in sloth and procrastination he occasionally rises to scribble for several international travel and vox pop journals.
Photographs copyright Paul v Walters & E.J Lenahan